World No 1 Iga Swiatek landed her second Grand Slam title of the year when she defeated Ons Jabeur in Saturday’s final to capture the US Open trophy, adding it to her two Roland Garros championship wins.
I don't know if it's more than the second win on Roland Garros because I feel like, back then, the pressure was really on, and everybody was kind of expecting me to win. Here I managed to go ahead my expectations lower, and also I feel like people were not expecting a lot from me on hard court. So, mentally, I think Roland Garros was a little bit tougher. But tennis-wise and physically here, for sure, it was tougher. Iga Świątek
While the 21-year old dominated Jabeur for a set and a half, the tenacious Tunisian refused to go quietly and pushed Swiatek into a dramatic tiebreak, which the Pole won when Jabeur finally capitulated, 6-2 7-6(5), after an enthralling hour and 51 minutes of play in a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.
“I really needed to stay composed and focused on the goals, and at this tournament it was really challenging,” Swiatek said during the on-court trophy ceremony. “It’s New York, it’s so loud, it’s so crazy.
“There were so many temptations in the city, and there are so many people I’ve met who are so inspiring. It’s really mind-blowing
“I’m so proud I could handle it, mentally.”
In addition to the trophy, Swiatek leaves Flushing Meadows with a cheque for $2.6 million and her status as the season’s most dominant player in tact.
“I’m really glad that it’s not in cash,” she said, drawing laughter from the sold-out crowd.
Swiatek had reached 9 finals in her career, and won all of them, remarkably all in straight sets, losing just 4 games in each, and serving up 4 bagel sets in the process.
“Iga never loses finals, so it is going to be very tough,” Jabeur said on Thursday night after her semi-final demolition of Caroline Garcia, as Swiatek staged her second come-back of the tournament from a set down in her Last 4 battle against Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus, a player she was especially determined not to lose to because of the war in Ukraine.
Back in March, when Ash Barty suddenly retired, Swiatek was thrust into the role of No 1 at the age of 20, and proceeded to win 37 matches in a row, including the French Open.
“At the beginning of the season I realised that, maybe, I can have some good results on WTA events,” Swiatek told reporters. “I also made it to the semi-final of Australian Open, but I wasn’t sure if I was on the level yet to win actually a Grand Slam, especially on US Open where the surface is so fast.
“It’s something that I wasn’t expecting for sure.
“It’s also like a confirmation, for me, that sky is the limit. I’m proud, also surprised a little bit, just happy that I was able to do that.”
Swiatek won her second Roland Garros title in early June, her 6th consecutive title in a remarkable run that saw her assume complete control of the women’s tour but, for the next 3 months, she suffered a slump in form, starting at Wimbledon where Alizé Cornet ended her 37 match-winning streak on her least favourite surface, grass, and the chasing pack began to reel her in.
She came into New York low in confidence, disliking the lighter tennis balls used for women’s matches, and tinkering with the tension in her racket strings.
After dropping the opening set of a 4th-round match to Germany’s Jule Niemeier, she rallied herself to win, finishing with a 6-0 flourish.
She then avoided a 3rd set in the quarter-finals against American Jessica Pegula, winning a tiebreak in stone-cold fashion, and was down 2-4 in the 3rd set to Sabalenka before winning the last 4 games to make the final.
There, the top seed flew out of the blocks at full bore, handcuffing Jabeur from the start by winning 12 of the first 14 points, and sprinting to a 3-0 lead.
The crowd put their weight behind Jabeur, who became the first Arab and African woman to feature in the US Open final, hoping for a longer final, but it was not enough to unsettle the determined Swiatek.
While the 28-year old Tunisian clawed her way back, getting herself on track when Swiatek momentarily lost control of her overpowering forehand, the Pole’s steely determination helped her strike back with deadly precision to break again, and she then charged ahead to pocket the set after just 30 minutes.
In that near-flawless first set, Swiatek scored 3 breaks in 4 games, landed 90 per cent of first serves, 19-for-20, all 19 of her returns, and won 8 of 9 points at the net, while striking 11 winners against 8 unforced errors.
Acknowledged as the game’s best returner, she is the only player this year to break opponents’ serves more than half the time.
“I think that’s the only match here where I started that well,” Swiatek admitted later. “I had that at the beginning of the season, I think, during that streak.
“I had many matches where I started well. It kind of disappeared a little bit in the second part of the season.
“It gave me a lot of confidence. If you’re going to start well, then it’s much easier to just continue, and to not feel that kind of pressure during the final.”
With near impenetrable defence, Swiatek squeezed the resistance out of Jabeur who, despite her valiant effort to stay with the top seed, could do little to halt her progress.
Jabeur, the first Arab woman to reach a Grand Slam final in the Open Era and to reach the highest level of the sport, has arguably the most creative arsenal in the women’s game, but she arrived looking tentative and nervous until she nailed a backhand down the line with ferocious power, hinting at a possible come-back.
She had reached the Wimbledon final in July, where she held a one-set lead before tightening up and getting overpowered by Elena Rybakina of Kazakhstan, and said she had learned lessons from that experience and had found ways to keep her emotions in check.
With Swiatek in top form, though, there was little that Jabeur could do on Saturday as the second set followed a similar pattern to the first, with the World No 1 surging to a 3-0 lead, the Tunisian getting back on serve, and then the Pole seizing control right back in the 6th game to get within two games of the championship.
It was then that Swiatek’s focus wavered, when a spectator whistled loudly in the middle of her service motion, and her level dropped.
Jabeur abandoned the cute stuff, and tried to match Swiatek’s power from the baseline, finally successfully breaking her in the 5th game to get back on serve, but the Pole regrouped to come back yet again, taking her opponent’s for the 5th time in 7 games.
Back on serve at 4-all, Swiatek faced 3 break points and, somehow, held on for 5-4 on the way to the tiebreak.
it all came down, then, to the very tight 2nd-set breaker, Swiatek’s first in a final when, at down 5-4, she fired a forehand winner that hit the line before the Tunisian’s forehand sailed long 2 points later, and she had closed out another triumph.
The 21-year-old fell to her back in disbelief, relieved, no doubt, that the match would not go into a deciding set, and, after the extended congratulatory hug with Jabeur, and a little bit of celebrating, she took to her chair, pulled out her phone from her bag and texted away as she waited for the trophy ceremony, the first Pole to ever win the Open, and the first WTA player since Williams in 2004 to win 7 titles in a season.
“Ons, such an amazing tournament, such an amazing season,” said Swiatek in the ceremony, after improving to 3-2 her lifetime record against Jabeur. “I know that this is, already, a pretty nice rivalry, and we’re going to have many more.
“I’m pretty sure you’re going to win some of them, so don’t worry.”
Beyond her dominance on the court, Swiatek has assumed a leadership role off it.
She has spoken out against the Russian invasion of Ukraine more than any player who is not from Ukraine, and has helped raise more than $2 million for relief efforts through her participation in tennis exhibitions, one of which she organised herself.
“We’re trying to do our best to be good people,” she said during the trophy ceremony, as red-and-white Polish flags swung throughout the stands.
“Being raised in Poland, it’s not so sure for us that we will to be tennis superstars,” she later told ESPN while white-and-red clad Polish tennis fans chanted ‘Iga! Iga!’.
“When I was younger I just, logically, thought that I’m just one of 40 million people in the country. What’s the possibility that I will be the one to be out there?
“I just worked hard day by day.”
Jabeur had seemed flat and her energy was low in the final, but she rallied to put up an impressive fight in the second set in which she displayed some of her unique magic.
“I really tried, but Iga didn’t make it easy for me,” Jabeur said after the match. “I don’t like her very much now, but it’s okay.
“We’re going to get that title sometime soon. Hopefully this is the beginning of so many things.”
Jabeur’s disappointment at losing her second Grand Slam final of the year was evident, and there were tears later as another dream had eluded her.
She told the press she had nothing to regret and that she wants to win a Grand Slam ‘just to show that it’s not impossible for someone coming from my country, coming from my continent, to win’.
“To be honest, I have nothing to regret, because I did everything possible,” Jabeur reflected. “I wish I served little bit better today. It would have helped me a lot, [but] you know Iga, how she plays in finals. It’s very tough to beat her.”
A crowd favourite in New York for her creative play and ebullient personality, she claimed her first Tour-level title last year in Birmingham, 9 years after first appearing in a WTA main draw.
She went on a tear this year, winning in Madrid and Berlin, before Rybakina came back from a set down to end her title hopes at Wimbledon.
“Wimbledon was tough. This one is going to be tough,” she told reporters. “I’m not someone that going to give up. I am sure I’m going to be in the final again.
“I think in general [Swiatek just plays] better at the right moment, at the important points,” Jabeur added. “She knows exactly what to do.
“I feel like she improved a lot from last year until the beginning of this year again.”
During the first week, Swiatek looked at times out of rhythm, out of sorts, so what had changed?
“For sure, the weather changed because it wasn’t that hot in the second part of the tournament,” she said. “It was helpful.
“Sometimes we have many things actually to think about on court. Sometimes I wasn’t able to do it every time, so I was making a lot of mistakes.
“Then I finally accepted that I’m going to make those mistakes. It’s not going to be like on slow surface where I can build a rally, then be really calm and just finish.
“It’s going to be more risk and less control, for sure. So I accepted that. That was the thing that actually let me be more free.”
An avid reader, Swiatek told the press she was now reading ‘Atonement’, and in the Big Apple she certainly atoned for her summer slump, in which she had faltered at Wimbledon, in Warsaw and on the North American circuit.
In New York, the World No 1 had played in the shadow of Serena Williams, and said she just wasn’t confident on hard courts, complaining about the balls, but she found a way to triumph against all the odds, such is the stuff champions are made of.
“I don’t know if it’s more than the second win on Roland Garros because I feel like, back then, the pressure was really on, and everybody was kind of expecting me to win,” Swiatek told reporters. “Here I managed to go ahead my expectations lower, and also I feel like people were not expecting a lot from me on hard court.
“So, mentally, I think Roland Garros was a little bit tougher. But tennis-wise and physically here, for sure, it was tougher.”
Swiatek has lifted a lot of trophies this season, and close observers of her ceremony routine have noticed the 21-year-old’s habit of looking inside the trophy while she is on stage, feigning her disappointment each time this comes up empty.
After speaking to reporters Swiatek was told to check the trophy again, which had already played a comical role in her interview as she strained to look around it when speaking to reporters.
To Swiatek’s delight, she finally found what she had been looking for – her favourite dessert, tiramisu.
“Oh, my God. Are you kidding me?” Swiatek said. “Wow, who did that?”
The USTA’s Managing Director of Corporate Communications, Chris Widmaier explained, “We notice you always check your trophy. This time we wanted you to find something.”
The US Open, near the end of a long year, with all its atmospheric conditions, might well be the toughest of the Grand Slam events to win and, given the impressive list of opponents, this was Swiatek’s statistically toughest road to a major title, with the rank of her average opponent being 47, compared to 55 at this year’s Roland Garros, and 78 for 2020 Roland Garros.
On Monday, Swiatek and Jabeur will be ranked, respectively, Nos 1 and 2 in the world, having scored the most victories on the Hologic WTA Tour over the past two years, and they are also one and two on the Race to the WTA Finals leaderboard.